Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Raptor ID

For those of you who followed his journey, you can imagine, we received a lot of phone calls about possible sightings of Dakota this past November and December. And in investigating these calls, some of those sightings have been of other raptors than a Great Horned Owl. There are many field guides to birds available which are much more complete, but we thought we’d give you a quick reference to some of these common raptors.

 Dakota is a Great Horned Owl. 22” tall, 44” wingspan, 3.1 lb. Note yellow eyes, ear tufts, white throat patch and horizontal bars on chest as markers. As with all raptors, females are approximately 25-30% larger than males. Dakota is kind of little even for a male. Great Horns are the most common owl in Wisconsin and our largest owls – except when Great Gray Owls or Snowy Owls occasionally come south from Canada in severe winters or lemming population crashes.

A caller was certain they had Dakota. They had an Eastern Screech Owl that had a fractured right furcula (wing bone) and blood in its right eye probably from trauma like being hit by a car or flying into an object. Screech come in 3 color phases : red, brown and gray. 8.5” tall, 18” wingspan, 6 ounces. Note the ear tufts but no white throat patch and much smaller size. But Screech Owls don’t know they are small- Screech’s are very feisty birds.

Barred Owls are our 2nd largest owl common in Wisconsin. 21” tall, 42” wingspan, 1.6 lb.
Note the black eyes. Years ago we got a baby Barred Owl in as a patient and one of our volunteers gasped that it was blind when she saw it. She was used to the yellow Great Horn eyes. No ear tufts, more pronounced facial disk, vertically streaked chest and belly. Even though barred are almost as large as Great Horns in height and wing span, they are about half the weight. These birds are very fluffy.

We also have Short-eared and Long-eared Owls in Wisconsin but they are not as common owls. We may admit one every couple years at WINC. Note that all these owls are stocky with round heads, very little neck definition, and short squat tails. And their heads are big in comparison to their bodies. Owls can see and fly in daylight although they prefer to sit on a branch next to a tree trunk and snooze the day away. If disturbed from their roost by crows, people or activity they will glide away to another location. If owls are having trouble finding food due to inexperience, lack of local food sources, or illness or injury which hampers their hunting, owls will be active in the day in addition to the night looking for food. If you see an owl active in day for several days, that owl may need help. Please call WINC or a wildlife rehabilitator in your area.

We had several calls that Dakota was at the intersection of C and 18, just down the road from our current and our old location. Was he trying to come home? Staff and volunteers have raced to the scene to find a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on a pole. Red-tails are our most common raptor in Wisconsin and we regularly admit them as patients. They often hunt on the roadsides and can be seen often along I-94. Because the ditches are mowed to maintain the roadways, the vegetation that grows there is constantly growing back. That tender new vegetation attracts prey species like Eastern Cottontail rabbits, 13-lined Ground Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunks to feed. The shorter vegetation also makes prey easier to see than dense underbrush. And some of these prey animals get hit by cars and Red-tails are resourceful enough to take advantage of the roadways for all these reasons. Hawks in general are taller and slimmer than owls. They have smaller heads in proportion to their bodies than owls and more pronounced neck and shoulder definition. Red-tails have a white to cream colored throat, chest and belly with faint mottling if any at all. They will soar or sit out in the open in daytime because they are hunting by sight. Red-tails are 19” tall, 49” wingspan, 2.4 lbs.

We began our blog originally to help educate people about native Wisconsin wildlife. When Dakota’s ordeal began it quickly turned into Dakota watch. Throughout the past few months, people have become more aware of owls because of the media stories about Dakota. Not only are we extremely happy for his safe return, he is still teaching people about wildlife even though he has not yet begun to work again!

Dakota, meanwhile, continues to remain well. He loves mealtime and spending daytime hours outdoors so that he can watch the antics of our resident birds and squirrels.

Guest Blogger L.R.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this educational post. I love the fact that owls like to perch and snooze the day away. I knew Dakota was my soul mate! Seriously thank you for your care of Dakota and all the wildlife patients you serve. God Bless you.